Drug Addiction in the United States

Drug Abuse in America

Drug addiction is one of the most common public health problems in the United States. Over 20 million people are current or former drug addicts in the States. It is a significant factor in health and disease issues, incarceration rates, vehicle accidents, employment and financial burden. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) drugs cost the community in excess of $18 billion annually due to the impact on health and productivity. Drugs harm society in more significant ways however. Family breakdowns, domestic violence, child abuse, vehicle accidents, education problems and loss of employment are all linked to drug addiction.

The United States struggles with drug addiction as a serious public health issue. Access to appropriate care, prison populations with high drug use rates and socio-economic and racial inequality continue to be major hurdles for treating drug addiction. Rates for drug use have remained relatively stable over the past 25 years despite an increasing focus of governments on drug use and trafficking. It is a federal crime to carry prohibited drugs whether for personal use or sale. Punishment can be severe.

National Statistics on Drug Use

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is an annual survey conducted in the United States to monitor drug use trends. It assesses nationwide drug, alcohol and tobacco use and dependence of people aged over 12 years. It is conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Over 67,000 people across America are surveyed for the assessment.

Drug use reported in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2010 is as follows:

* 22.6 million people, or 8.9 % of the total USA population, over 12 years of age were current or former drug users.
* 20.2 million people over age of 18 are current illicit drug users.
* Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance. 17.4 million people are reported to be past-month users.
* 1.5 million people are current users of cocaine. This represents 0.6% of the population.
* 1.2 million people are past-month users of hallucinogens with nearly 700,000 having used ecstasy.
* 7 million people reported to used prescription medications for non-medical use in 2010.
* There was a reported decrease in past-month methamphetamine users with 353,000 the reported number.
* 17.5% of all reported drug users are unemployed, 8.4% are employed fulltime and 11.2% are employed part time. This reveals that 65.5% of all current drug users are employed in some capacity.
* 10.6 million persons reported driving while under the influence of drugs.

According to SAMHSA, approximately 8.9 million Americans have co-occurring mental health illness and a substance abuse issue. They estimate that over 55% of people with co-occurring disorders do not receive any treatment for their conditions.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse is a concerning problem for the United States. It is considered by the Federal Government the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. Prescription drugs are the second most abused drugs after marijuana in the United States. Estimates suggest that approximately 20 percent of people have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.

The most commonly abused prescription medication in America is prescription opiates. This class of medication includes oxycodone and vicodin. It was reported that in 2010, Vicodin was the number one prescription medicine that was prescribed over 130 million times. Vicodin, or hydrocodone acetaminophen is a strong analgesic prescribed to treat severe pain. Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic that is combined with acetaminophen that is similar to paracetamol. Combined in one drug, it is an effective pain reliever. However, due to the opiate base of the drug, Vicodin has a very high risk of addiction and abuse.

Oxycodone is another highly abused opiate analgesic. Prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, the drug is notoriously known as hillbilly heroin or coalminers cocaine due to the fact there is high abuse rates in poor regions of America. Oxycodone is often taken as a substitute drug for heroin and many young and inexperienced drug users falsely believe that it is safer than heroin. This drug is incredibly dangerous and highly addictive when taken without supervision.

Statistics reveal that there has been a massive increase in the number of prescription medications being abused in America. The White House reports that between 2000 and 2009 there was nearly a 50 percent increase in the number of opiate prescriptions being filled in pharmacies.

Treatment Gaps and Incarceration

One of the most difficult issues in the United States with regard to drug addiction is access to treatment. Individuals who are struggling with addiction have limited access to services if they do not have private health insurance. Publicly funded services to deal with drug addiction are chronically underfunded, under-resouced and over burdened. This can mean that services can only provide short-stay limited focus treatment options for the addict. Relapse is common.

The escalating drug use and worsening symptoms of addiction mean that these people become a public problem and communities are only able to deal with them through incarceration. According to the Justice Policy Institute, there are more than 2 million people in American prisons with over 25 percent of those held for drug offenses. High incarceration rates for drug offenses is linked to the struggle that communities have with the gap between drug abuse prevalence and access to treatment services. A significant lack of available services and continuing drug addiction means that there are a large number of people who are unable to overcome their addictions.

The treatment gap has meant that many individuals who have an addiction become caught up in the prison population. Since the 1970’s the United States has employed a policy of harsh sentencing for drug offenders which includes mandatory sentencing for those with drug paraphernalia or suspected of drug use. Known as the War on Drugs, this strategy was first introduced to reduce drug addiction and drug related crimes.

Since its introduction, it has been responsible for successfully reducing drug trafficking in certain regions. However, it ha also lead to the increasing incarceration rates of drug addicts as a way to deal with substance abuse problems. This has not been successful at reducing drug use in the United States. The United States has seen the greatest rise globally in the number of people arrested for drug offenses tripling in the past 25 years.

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